Valentine’s Day, the 14th of February, is a celebration of love. Lovers succumb to the marketing ploys of buying cards, flowers and gifts for their partners, dinner for two, and so forth, in love’s name. So, what is the origin of this mysterious saint, Saint Valentine? How did Valentine’s Day come about?
Saint Valentine Origin
There are varied accounts about Saint Valentine. The popular belief is that he was a priest in Rome during the 3rd century when Claudius II was the emperor. The emperor committed Rome to unpopular military campaigns and doing so, it became difficult to attract soldiers. Believing that men did not want to be separated from their wives and children, Claudius cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome.
Saint Valentine entered the picture. He was claimed to have secretly married couples. When Emperor Claudius found out, he had to face the Prefect of Rome and condemned to death. In the year 269AD, 14th of February, Saint Valentine’s execution was carried out. It has been suggested that he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, and left her a farewell note signed: “From your Valentine.”
February 14 Date Set
Although suggestions had it that Valentine’s Day is celebrated on 14th February to commemorate the death of Saint Valentine, it was believed that the Christian church selected this date in an attempt to “Christianize” pagan celebrations. That time, 14th February was already set aside for the worship of Juno, the Roman goddess of women and marriage, and 15 February was the Lupercalia festival to honour Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture.
Activities included a “lottery” system of partner selection in which the women placed their names in urns and the bachelors then selected a name from these. These pairings were for the duration of the festival, often resulting in marriage.
Valentine’s Day Traditions and Celebrations
- In 498AD — Pope Gelasius officially announced 14 February as St Valentine’s Day, labeling the Roman traditions un-Christian. 14 February gradually became accepted as the day to exchange love messages and Saint Valentine became the patron saint of lovers.
- During the Middle Ages — The English and French regarded 14 February as the beginning of the birds’ mating, and the notion that it’s a day for romance. The oldest known valentine in existence comes from this time period. It is a poem, written by the Duke of Orleans, Charles, to his wife when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following the Battle of Agincourt.
- 17th Century — Valentine’s Day increased popularity by the 17th century in Britain. It became common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange letters of admiration or small gifts. Like the Roman tradition, young men and women would draw names from a bowl to see who their valentine would be, and would then wear these names on their sleeves for one week, thus comes the phrase “to wear your heart on your sleeve.”
- 18th century — printed Valentine’s Day cards emerged.
- Mid-19th Century and Onwards — Valentine’s Day became big business for the first time, with mass-produced valentines in the US. It is estimated that one billion valentine cards are sent each year, second only to Christmas cards. Not to be cast aside, billions of dollars are spent on chocolates and flowers, and other gift items each year.
Roses are red, violets are blue. Happy Valentine’s Day!